Every member of the Augustana men’s soccer club plays solely for the love of the game. It is a voluntary position that does not come with the perks of a university team and often flies under the radar of the Augie athletic world.
Despite these deterrents, the club pulls together a passionate and tenacious team every year. Juniors Bjorn Slattum, Blake Bendt and senior Andrew Sweeter are the club captains, and the club is advised by the Director of Recreational Services Mark Hecht.
“We’re the ragtag bunch of the conference with a small school, and we still manage to win some games every year,” said Sweeter, who plays goalie.
International students make up the majority of the club’s ragtag bunch.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find enough people to drive [to games] because there aren’t enough people with American licenses,” Sweeter said.
The international students, many of whom have been soccer players since they were children, add a diverse perspective to a mostly student-run organization.
As their faculty adviser, Hecht manages the club’s budget, approves purchases and provides assistance when needed, which Hecht says is not often.
“I do very little. The leadership [has to] make sure they’re getting guys together for practice, getting the field lined up with the city of Sioux Falls, getting the referees lined up, getting them paid, getting folks lined up to drive,” Hecht said. “There’s quite a bit of sacrifice involved; it doesn’t just happen. There’s a lot of time they put into it. There’s reward, too.”
Part of this reward comes from the strong friendships formed within the team. Bendt and Sweeter, who have both played with the club since they were freshmen, attribute the commitment of the team to these strong bonds.
“It’s a bunch of guys who you spend so much time with that you get to trust, and you share so many memories together,” Bendt said. “If you’re playing games or on a road trip, you’re spending time with these guys and those are your college weekend memories.”
One of the club’s favorite memories, however, happened off the field when they received news of a canceled game. The team was all ready to go, so someone suggested going to Thunder Road instead. They spent six hours playing mini-golf and go-karting, followed by a barbeque at Sweeter’s house.
The club practices twice a week on the campus green and is scheduled to play 10 matches per season. However, the flooding this year has only allowed them to play three games so far. They beat the University of South Dakota (USD) 2-1 on Sept. 27 after previously losing 7-0 to NDSU and 7-1 to Minnesota State University Moorhead.
The team will continue their season on Friday, Oct. 11, when they take on South Dakota State University in Brookings.
The club is a part of a Midwestern conference that also includes North Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota, the University of North Dakota and Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Despite being the smallest university in the conference, the men’s soccer club receives funding through the Augustana Student Association (ASA) in order to make the trips to these universities.
Hecht said he allocates the funding from ASA to the five sports clubs on campus based on budget needs. The soccer club uses its budget for equipment, travel (including gas, hotel rooms and meals), uniforms, field rental, referee payments and recruiting posters.
This budget does not guarantee the club a winning season, but it does give the members the ability to play the sport they love.
“When I graduate, I know I’m going to miss it a lot. Even if we didn’t have the best winning season, it was a really fun thing to do every fall,” Sweeter said. “It was a great way to come back into a new school year and know you would have five or six new friends.”
Sweeter, who hopes to assist the club in some capacity after he graduates, and Bendt, who will continue to play next year, encourage anyone who wants to play to try it out.
“Whether you’ve played for 15 years or just touched a ball for the first time, we don’t care,” Bendt said. “No experience required; we’re about fun.”
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